Signs of the Times

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Once upon a time, signs painted on the side of buildings proliferated in Pittsburgh.  Over the decades as these types of signs went out of fashion, many were left to fade with time.  Remnants of these signs still cling to several buildings.  Some signs are faded but legible while others only show faint traces of having been there.

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These signs tell a story of the history of the city.  Is it a story worth preserving?  If so, what is the appropriate way to preserve it?  Should these signs be refreshed so that they continue to live on?  Or should they be left alone to continue to fad to show their decline from favor?  Yet, there appears to be renewed interest in the hand painted sign.  (This article is one of several about a niche of successful hand painted sign artists.)  Maybe as these buildings are renovated, some of these signs will be refreshed with a modern take.

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Dogs in the City

Dogs Chilling in Istanbul

Not being a dog person, I have been fascinated by different dog behaviors and treatment that I have seen in traveling.  In New York City, I was surprised to see people bring their pet dogs onto public transit, both on the metro and on the bus.  I wasn’t sure if this behavior was like eating on the buses in Pittsburgh–it’s not permitted, yet people do it anyway–or if pets are allowed on public transportation in NYC.  It also seemed unusual to me that most of the dogs I saw were small.  But then, thinking it through, I decided it made sense as if you live in a stereotypical tiny New York apartment, you wouldn’t have the space to keep a big dog.

In Pittsburgh, dogs seem to be more like what you would find in suburban areas.  They are often big and they tend to bark a lot and strain toward people they pass on the street.  After coming back from New York City, I realized that you don’t see dogs in downtown Pittsburgh.  However, as more people have moved downtown, dogs on the streets downtown have become much more common.  Including ones that are pushed around in what look like baby strollers, but given how some people feel about pets, they might have been strollers designed for dogs.

Istanbul dogs were quite different from the average dog in America.  I believe most of them were strays, but they appeared to be quite self-sufficient (such as the ones in the photo above).  They minded their own business and let everyone around go about their business.  It was quite refreshing to me to see numerous dogs that did not feel the need to bark their heads off just because someone was walking by.  I regret that I did not get a picture of the most notable dog I passed.  He had a human companion, but no leash, instead he was decked out in sunglasses and other bling like mardi gras beads.

Beth Abraham Cemetery

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Yesterday, while exploring Carrick and the surrounding neighborhoods looking for adaptively reused religious buildings, we took a detour through the Beth Abraham Jewish Cemetery.  According to the map we had there were multiple roads through the cemetery. We started on one that went through a section of the cemetery with newer graves and came to a T-intersection with a sign to the right that said Do Not Enter One Way, so we turned left. The road was wide at that point, but went around a sharp bend and quickly narrowed to just barely the width of the car.

This was the original section of the cemetery. The graves were clearly older and were placed head to toe with sides touching. It was the most densely plotted cemetery that I have seen.

Our awe at the density was soon interrupted by the termination of the road we were traveling. Despite my confidence that the map was telling us we could get back to the main road by going straight, that was clearly not an option. Fortunately, there was a side leg of the road right at the point we realized we could go no further.  The width of both paths was perhaps a foot wider than the car. My friend who was driving predicted that a 21-point turn would be required to get us out.  I think we managed it in 10-points.

Once turned around, we went back the way we came. As we reached the main roads and started down the public road that bisects the cemetery, I realized I had been so distracted by looking around and then directing the u-turn, that I missed my opportunity to take a picture of the old section of the cemetery.  Instead, I got some shots of the section to the east of Stewart Ave, which is newer, but almost as dense as the old section.

If you decide to take a trip to this cemetery, I recommend entering through the main gates off of Stewart Ave and pulling off at the wide section of road at the sharp bend. From there, the old section and one of the newer sections are easily accessible by foot, though there may be some steep and uneven portions.

Sacred Row

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This is a fascinating structure I discovered on the South Side Flats. A friend and I were going around the neighborhood looking at adaptively reused church buildings. While going from one building we knew of to another location, we stumbled upon this building. From what I’ve pulled together so far, this building was built sometime between 1876 and 1884 as four rowhouses. In 1926, the Second Greek Catholic St John the Baptist Church of the South Side purchased the property. The deed described the structure as four 4-room houses. When the Second Greek Catholic St John the Baptist Church sold the property in 1959, the deed described the property as four 2-story brick party wall houses.

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However, when you look at the side of the building facing 23rd St, it appears that at one time, this property was used as a church. The middle of the three boarded up openings on this side looks like it used to be a door for an entrance into a church that has been partially bricked up. From this I assume that while the Second Greek Catholic St John the Baptist Church owned the property, they renovated to use as their place of worship with a main front door and two windows.

I look forward to learning more about this structure and its history. I suspect there is an interesting story that connects this building to the 1st St John the Baptist Greek Church which is still in operation at the corner of E Carson St and 7th and the 2nd St John the Baptist Greek Church that set up just down the block at 615 E Carson St before moving to Jane St. From the pieces I’ve found so far there was a severe split in the South Side congregation that involved boycotts and arrests of arguing members and former members.  I’m not sure yet how this rowhouse/church may have fit into that struggle.

 

 

Heth’s Run Bridge: Redux

Heth’s Run Bridge, the first bridge I posted about in my Pittsburgh bridges project, is scheduled to be replaced by the end of next year.  The notice to proceed was expected to be issued last week with construction beginning on Sept. 24 with the installation of a temporary road around the bridge, through the zoo’s parking lot.  According to the schedule that was passed out at a community meeting at the end of August, the bridge is expected to close with all car traffic being diverted to the temporary road on Nov. 1st.  Due to the turning radius constraints with the temporary road, trucks will not be permitted and will instead be by way of the Highland Park Bridge, Route 28 and the 62nd Street Bridge.  If all goes according to schedule the bridge should reopen to all traffic on October 1, 2014.  Additional road work will continue through October.  After final inspections, the project is expected to be officially completed by December 8, 2014.

Heth's Run Bridge's hazardous sidewalk

This is a PennDOT project expected to cost over $18.5 million and is definitely needed.  As I discuss in my Heth’s Run Bridge Part II and Highland Park Bridge posts, the sidewalks here are in desperate need of repair and the proportion of sidewalk to road across the bridge is at least 50 years out of date.  All this is going to be addressed in the reconstruction.  The new bridge is going to have two lanes in each direction to match the roadway on either end.  Additional features of the new bridge will be decorative railing, period lighting, entrance pylons, and “architectural features on the abutments with form liners” (which I believe refers to new urns).  At the community meeting, it was mentioned that the current urns will be saved and kept in a warehouse until a new home is found for them.

In addition to the bridge, about 870 feet of Butler Street are going to be reconstructed including sidewalks.  My understanding is that this is the part of Butler from the Heth’s Run Bridge to the ramps of the Highland Park Bridge, which should take care of my complaints about the condition of the sidewalk for those of us trying to cross the Highland Park Bridge without a car.  This should also clear up the confusion for the outbound traffic of whether this part of the road is one lane or two as the plans include removing the “kink” from the existing alignment.

New signals and ADA ramps will be installed at the intersections of Butler with One Wild Place and with Baker Streets.

Another major part of the project is the excavation under the bridge to an elevation of 762.  According to GoogleEarth, the bridge is at an elevation of 800 ft. I’m not sure if this will restore the bridge to its exact historic height, but it will be close (see the photo of the previous bridge from 1912).  This will also pave the way for connecting this area to the proposed Allegheny Riverfront Green Boulevard project.

This project will no doubt cause some inconveniences during the construction process, but the construction of the temporary road will significantly cut down on this even though it adds over a month to the process.  Imagine instead, everyone having to go on the truck detour or all the Zoo traffic coming down Morningside Ave and Baker Street instead of One Wild Place and Butler Street.  That would be a true nightmare.  Thank you, PennDOT and the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium for the temporary road.  Thank you, PennDOT and any other funders, Sen. Jim Ferlo, Rep. Dom Costa, and anyone else who had a hand in helping bring about this long overdue project.

I can’t wait to walk over the new bridge when it’s finished!

More information about the project including the design of the temporary road can be found here: http://morningside-pa.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/hethsrunbridge.pdf

Safety while Traipsing

The Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation, a non-profit community development organization in Pittsburgh, is raising funds to buy back guns.  The goal is to get unwanted guns out of the community where they may be stolen and used in a crime or found by a child and played with, causing injury and death.

In the process of raising funds and talking with different people, it’s become clear that not all guns are bad.  Some guns are very useful such as soldering guns, caulking guns, staple guns, salad shooters, glue guns, nail guns, heat guns, cookie guns, water guns, and cameras (which shoot).  Check out the links for each of these guns to see how they can improve communities (more links will be added over the next few weeks).

As an urban traisper, it is important to feel safe as I walk around exploring the city.  I have chosen not to walk the bridges in certain neighborhoods of Pittsburgh, because of safety concerns.  I was excited when I joined the staff of the BGC to hear that they were working on planning a gun buyback to reduce the chances of gun violence in their neighborhoods.  Maybe our work will make a small difference and help lead to broader changes that will improve the safety of the currently troubled areas or those perceived as troubled.

For more about the Gun Buyback Initiative, check out our Razoo page.  While you’re there, please consider giving a donation.  We hope to reach at least $15,000 by August 31.  Thank you!